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Defence & Aerospace

The “never been done before” Chinese air-power exercise near Korea


China’s Reconnaissance Plane which also participated into the “never before” exercise (photo: SCMP)

Amid the hearsay that State Secretary Rex Tillerson who insisted on resolving the Korean tension diplomatically would be replaced by the bellicose Mike Pompeo, the incumbent CIA Director, Alex Lockie of Business Insider – Military & Defense gives us a headline which sounds scary: “China did something it’s never done before to warn the US about fighting North Korea”.

What actually happened was that, according to the SCMP in Hong Kong, on Monday Dec 4, China’s air force spokesman Shen Jinke announced on “the same day the United States and South Korea began their biggest joint air force exercise” that “China’s air force staged drills involving various aircraft through ‘routes and areas it has never flown before’ over the Yellow and East seas near the Korean peninsula”.

What this Business Insider article missed out was that last week a “tourist group of 32 people from Beijing” got a group visa for a 5-day tour to South Korea — “the first group visa to the country since March”. A Chinese travel agent expected that as “bilateral relations between the two sides have eased slowly recently, we began to reorganize group tours by contacting airline companies and travel agencies we can cooperate with in South Korea”.

While the Americans tend to think that China aims at warning the US, I tend to believe that it is just a secondary purpose. The primary goal is to show Seoul that China is becoming more capable of keeping the order and peace in this region. Seoul is the party which both Beijing and Washington are fighting for. If Washington is showing its strength that it can defend South Korea from any real attack, then Beijing is showing its capability of preventing South Korea from being attack at ground zero, that is no attack, no damage at all.

Allowing Chinese citizens to tour around Korea again is an indication that Beijing is confident enough there is no bombing, let alone nuclear explosion, there (As what I said before, unless you see Washington withdrawing American citizens and soldiers from Korea and Japan, talking about war is nonsense). Chinese aircrafts’ farther fights through ‘routes and areas it has never flown before’ are indication of their improved capacity.

In order to get Seoul to come to the 6-party talking table, Beijing must convince the Moon Jae-in administration that China is able to broker a good deal politically and economically beneficial to South Korea (and North Korea). By the time President Moon would not engage into any new agreement with Washington (whoever the State Secretary may be) to carry out joint war drill again, a talk is in sight.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

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About keith K C Hui

Keith K C Hui is a Chinese University of Hong Kong graduate major in Government and Public Administration and the author of "Helmsman Ruler: China's Pragmatic Version of Plato's Ideal Political Succession System In The Republic" (2013).

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